Anybody from any background can come up with a brilliant idea. It doesn’t take a business degree to notice an available market opportunity. That being said, experience in product development or another related academic field can give you better insight into the matter.
What if you’re not a product designer, but you have an idea with the serious potential to cause disruption, become popular, and change your life for good? You’re outright convinced that your next product is going to be nothing short of successful, but you have one big hurdle to tackle right ahead: design.
Unless you have all the right tools and are skilled at sketching, 3D modeling, prototyping, and testing the products on your own, it’s going to be much more difficult to bring the idea into reality. Depending on the complexity of the product, sometimes even an established company hires freelance product designers to get the job done, or at least ease the workload of existing employees.
Finding the right designer for the job, however, is a bit more complicated than it may seem. It is a hiring process, and naturally, you have a lot to do.
1. Decide the Specialties You Want
The word product can refer to a lot of different things. It can be an everyday item, like clothing, gadgets, a fashion accessory, household appliance, computer peripheral, pet supplies, cookware, decorations, stationery, toys, fishing gear, or power tools. Your product can be something more complicated such as a car, robot, solar panel, software, artificial body part, a website, and so on. With that in mind, looking for your run-of-the-mill designer is not enough. You need to be very specific to narrow down the search and make the process a bit easier. There are many questions to answer before you can even begin:
- Do you need illustrations?
- Are 3D modeling and rendering necessary?
- Who will build the prototypes?
- Is there a clearly defined timetable to get the project done?
- How much money is allocated for product designer(s)?
Being as specific and explicit as possible improves your chances of hiring the right designer from the get-go. If you want to build a rather sophisticated product such as a cordless power tool, you may need a designer with a strong background in engineering and electricity. Assuming you have the inner workings of the product handled, you will want a designer that specializes in the aesthetics. And then there is the packaging element of the product, which may require another designer.
In general, any product can be broken down into sections: mechanism, interior, exterior, and packaging. Each section requires a professional designer with specific knowledge of the field, yet all must work in collaboration to deliver the product in accordance with your specifications. Your product, depending on the complexity, may not possess all the sections mentioned above.
2. Freelance vs. Full-time Designers
As the title suggests, this article is for those who are currently in the market for a freelance product designer. In spite of that, there is nothing wrong with a simple explanation of why you must choose one over the other. It all comes down to three variables, as follows:
- Business necessity: If you run a start-up company, chances are you have at least a full-time product designer on your payroll. The designer also worked well in products the company released in the past. Due to some changes in the target market, consumer trends, and the competitive landscape, the new product must introduce some noticeable changes. Fresh perspectives are essential, but you don’t want to hire another full-time designer for just one particular project, hence a freelancer.
- Financial situation: Hiring a full-time designer costs a lot more money than a freelancer. If your budget is tight and the timetable is not on your side, a freelancer can ease the workload of existing designers without breaking the bank. Whereas a full-time product designer averages at more than $100,000 annually, you can hire a top tier freelancer for one-tenth of that. Working with freelancers has some downsides though. The biggest drawback is that you’re not investing in human resources. Once the contract is over, the skills and experiences gathered at your company also walk out of the door just like that. While it is potentially a poor investment in the long run, it is a great short-term solution.
- Brand understanding: Another thing to consider is whether the freelancer has a good understanding of your product, brand, and company. Even a new full-time designer needs time to learn about all those things, so theoretically, a freelancer is just about the same. If you work with the same freelancer as in the previous project, however, seamless teamwork can take place right away.
Hiring a freelance product designer, despite the short-term nature of employment, can deliver significant benefits to your company. It is affordable, practical, and, in fact, a business savior for a lot of start-ups out there who want to get the products released as soon as possible despite a tight budget and schedule.
3. Create a Project Overview
Now that you know what you’re looking for, it’s time to make a brief outline of the project parameter. Later on, you will use this outline to facilitate conversation with potential candidates. The sketchy summary is what you expect to get with the resources you have from the product designer. Points to include:
- Project timeframe: A lot of companies tend to over-generalize the timeline by setting a deadline just for the end-product. It would be more helpful if the designer knows when you expect the first draft, timely deliverables, progress reports, and so on.
- Details of deliverables: Parameter of every deliverable itself including but not limited to format (PDF, PNG, CAD file, zip), timing (daily, weekly, monthly), medium (cloud storage, email, SFTP, etc.) and descriptions/attachments.
- Budget: Be straightforward about the budget allocated for the project. If you’re willing to pay the freelancer above-average, also expect above-average quality.
Having a clear overview of the project will save you a lot of time and effort in communication. Save the outline in a common text or image format to send to every shortlisted designer. It tells the designers what you want, how you want it, and how much you’re willing to spend for it.
4. Scour Online Communities
Whether you’re an individual with a product idea or a company looking for an additional team member, you’ve most likely visited several online freelance communities. After all, there’s no better place to search for freelance product designers than the Internet. On many of these websites, you can also use sorting options based on location, educational degrees, experience, fees, and more. Another helpful thing is that online freelance websites also serve as a direct communication platform through which you can contact potential candidates individually.
As promising as online-based portfolio websites can be, do not hesitate to look for freelancers in local design groups too. For some companies, this may not be an obvious option. Product design seminars are the most viable place to find suitable candidates. Don’t forget about local colleges – students may lack experience, but there is always the possibility that their lecturer will be kind enough to give you recommendations for the job. Bear in mind that students and fresh graduates are less than ideal, although they often charge the least. As mentioned earlier, the best kind of freelance product designer is one with enough experience and an impressive track record.
Regardless of where you intend to look for professionals qualified for the task, the key is to proactively reach out. Do not wait for a freelancer to apply. Go search and do the picking yourself whenever possible. Every great freelance product designer is likely loaded with job offers, so improve your chances of hiring the right person by taking a more direct approach.
5. Gather Some Referrals
The more experienced freelancers have worked with multiple companies and individuals. The freelancers often attach portfolios to their profiles. On some websites, you can actually see a list of previous clients on freelancers’ profiles as well. These clients are your best sources for referral candidates. It does not take more than five minutes to write an email to ask questions about any particular candidate, so there is no excuse for not doing it. If you haven’t hired a freelance product designer before, you’ll be surprised that most clients will be happy to share their experiences, both good and bad.
6. Examine Past Work
At this point, you should have already shortlisted several freelancers. Referrals and testimonials are good, but you should not rely merely on what someone else tells you prior to hiring. Look (or ask) for portfolios and examine the freelancers’ past work. Based on what you see in the portfolios, you’ll have a general idea of how skilled the freelancers are at designing various products.
However, you must understand that each product designer has a different approach to style, communication, and workflow. Some use different methods to send deliverables too. Let us not forget that every freelancer responds to feedback or criticism in their own way as well. All those things can be quite difficult to discern by just looking at portfolios, so conducting an interview (even an informal one) can be helpful.
Another important point is to put personal preference aside. Freelancers, by definition, have the freedom to work with a lot of different companies without a long-term contract. They are not designing just for you, so it’s good to step away from any personal preferences you may have. The great thing is that some works they did in the past can be similar to or in the same product category as your idea, making it easier to do the vetting process. Assemble your existing employees into a room (including the full-time designer if possible) to give their opinions of the freelancers’ past projects. Since the employees will work closely with the freelancers, their feedback is valuable.
7. Trial Project
It may not be necessary if the freelancer will only work with you for a limited time. If you intend to work with a product designer for the entire process, more scrutiny is indispensable. The entire product development process can take a year or more, and it may involve design refinements, so it’s best to hire the most qualified freelancer to avoid problems in the middle of the project. Consider a trial project where one or more freelancers will work on the same theoretical product design that can be done in less than a few weeks.
Think of it as a test to see which freelancer delivers the best results in such a strict timeframe. Of course, this must appear – on the surface – like the real project rather than a trial run. Since you have to pay all shortlisted freelancers for the work they do, make sure the trial is simple enough that you don’t waste a lot of money. Also, avoid conducting trial projects for too many candidates.
8. Pay Attention to How Each Freelancer Takes Feedback
The test also provides an excellent chance to see how each of those CAD design freelancers responds to feedback. For all intents and purposes, every designer must be able to critique their work and be willing to accept harsh judgment at the same time, even if the critiques come from non-designers. A freelance product designer who has worked with multiple clients in different teams should handle negative feedback quite well. This kind of freelancer is most likely an effective team player.
The way they respond to your opinions – especially negative opinions about their work – should immediately give a hint of how well they take feedback. A product designer that gets defensive is often (but not always) a bad sign. There are times when designers must stand up for their work if they know they’re right, but they should take every negative opinion as constructive feedback. One thing you should highly appreciate from a product designer is creativity. You don’t want to work with someone who agrees with everything you say. On the other hand, working with people who think they are always right is not productive either.
It is a test of impartiality too. After spending weeks designing the theoretical product, you need to make sure they are willing to scrap the work and start over from scratch by implementing the ideas of others. Professional product designers understand that design refinements are not uncommon in their line of work. Therefore, it is an important trait to admit mistakes, acknowledge shortcomings in design, and move on.
9. Payment and Intellectual Property Rights
Some freelancers want to get paid on a per-project basis, while others charge per hour. With the latter, the designer will send an invoice for all hours worked at the end of the project based on the agreed-upon rate. Regardless of what the contract might look like, make sure everything is written down as clearly as possible on paper before the project even starts. In the event a misunderstanding happens in the middle of the road, the written contract will be used as the basis for discussion to settle any possible dispute. Use a standard contract structure if you have one, but a basic plain-language contract will do. Make sure to include the amount of money involved and the terms of payment.
Equally crucial is intellectual property rights. Every freelancer has a different preference for the matter. Some of them actually want to be credited for the work and charge less in return. However, this is your decision to make. There is nothing that prevents you from claiming the entire intellectual property right for yourself. It is your idea, after all, and the designer’s role is to help you transform the concept into a physical or practical product.
Cad Crowd Is Home to Expert Product Designers
In summary, you can only find a great freelance product designer or drafting service if you actually know what and where to look for one. Utilize professional networking/communities to your best advantage and use the available resources effectively. Be very specific and detailed about what you need and expect to make sure that everybody in the team is on the same page to reach common goals.
At Cad Crowd, we work with thousands of qualified product designers who have worked with some big names. If you’re looking for help with your design project, connect with us today for a free quote.